09 Jun Wellness Wasteland: Technology Isn’t Where We Need It Most

When the average person walks into a hospital, they are surrounded by arguably the densest concentration of technology that they will ever encounter. The doctor’s arsenal of sensors, tools, software and data can be brought to bear against a host of diseases and ailments. The modern hospital is the epicenter of technologically-driven wellness. But when the average person leaves the hospital they enter a veritable wasteland of wellness technology, leaving us with a relationship to wellness technology, and the choices it can enable, that is harmfully imbalanced.

It is precisely this relationship that begs for technological disruption. We spend a comparatively infinitesimal amount of our life in hospitals and doctor’s offices, with the choices we make outside of these places driving the needs and possible outcomes of our time spent in them. We need wellness technology centered on the places where the choices that impact wellness are made. Hospitals are well positioned to respond to traumatic events and have brought technological advancements to bear in continuously novel ways, but the rising epidemic of chronic diseases has cemented how the prevailing medical system struggles to affect daily choices outside the doctor’s domain. To reverse the current state of chronic disease in our country, we need new epicenters of technologically-driven wellness beyond the hospital.

Imagine that you are one of the 163 million Americans diagnosed with a chronic disease—in this case, diabetes. After diagnosis, you are compelled to attend hours of programming and instruction on your disease state inside the walls of healthcare. You are told that without major lifestyle changes—systemic behavioral intervention—your health will steadily decline. Worse, you are armed to the teeth with papers, pamphlets and online resources, much of which is complicated and overwhelming. You are scared, uncertain and feel defeated. And you are adrift in an ocean of consumer choice ambivalent to what is healthy for you.

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(Image credit: iStock/FredFroese. Edit by Yuri Teshler.)

Consider, for example, the grocery store. Answering the question of what is healthy in the middle of the grocery store is daunting, and the choices we make there are a critical component of our wellness. There are effectively no technologies, though, to support healthy choices. Moreover, we expect chronic disease sufferers—those most in need of wellness support—to navigate this quagmire of healthy meal planning every day.

The evidence is overwhelming: just about everybody fails to eat a healthy diet. A study published by the CDC shows that 87% of those surveyed failed to meet daily vegetable intake recommendations, and an unconscionable 93% of children consume fewer vegetables than recommended. In a recent article, Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, expressed the dire situation in terms of excessive sodium intake and its proven ties to heart disease: on average, Americans consume more than twice the AHA’s daily recommended amount of sodium. We are losing the battle to manage and prevent chronic disease.

Where are the technology solutions that can vitalize healthy food choices and aid those stranded in grocery store aisles? We can replenish Slim Jims and Doritos with Amazon Dash; we can order groceries from Instacart; we can peer inside our refrigerator from afar with Samsung Family Hub. Each of these solutions addresses a logistical food problem but fails to help with wellness choices. Even meal delivery services that are admirably altering the landscape of food choices and accessibility, such as Blue Apron and HelloFresh, require a break from the traditional food chain.

Creating epicenters of technologically-driven wellness at the point of choices that impact wellness is the sensible way to positively impact our health. If you believe, as I do, that, when confronted with the means to improve their own wellness, people can and will use those means, then balancing the technological equation becomes straightforward. We need technologies that connect us to information about ourselves and the marketplace, technologies that make the path to wellness clear at the critical decision points, like grocery stores. By uncovering information about what we have eaten, by exposing what we have on hand, by creating links between preferences and healthy alternatives, and by understanding and enabling affordable healthy meal planning, technology can equip people—especially those with chronic disease—with tools to alter their own future.